Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Saga of the Toilet Paper

I walked into the bathroom this morning to get ready for the day.  As I took in my surroundings, I noted that there was no towel on the towel rack and no toilet paper on the roll.  So, I left the bathroom to fetch those two items.  As I left the bathroom, I observed the mop and mop bucket perched in the corner where I had left them the night before when I mopped the bathroom floor.  I grabbed the mop and mop bucket on my way out of the bathroom with the intention of emptying the bucket and returning both items to the broom closet where they belonged.  As I walked out of the bathroom, I almost tripped over my shoes that were still in the middle of the floor where I had kicked them off before getting into bed.  I put down the mop and bucket, picked up my shoes and placed them in the closet.  Since I was standing in the closet, I picked out the clothes that I planned on wearing today.  I took the clothes out of the closet and started to lay them on the bed when I figured I might as well make the bed first, so I put the clothes on my dresser and began making my bed.  While I was in the middle of making my bed, the phone rang.  It was my neighbor, Carol from down the street who wanted to know if she could come over to make some copies.  I told her that would be fine.  
I hung up the phone and went into the kitchen to make a pot of coffee for when Carol arrived to make her copies.  As I was standing in the kitchen, I noticed the package of toilet paper that was still on the kitchen counter (I had unpacked the groceries but forgot to put the toilet paper in the bathrooms).  Seeing the toilet paper reminded me that I needed to put a roll of toilet paper in my bathroom.  I grabbed the toilet paper and headed for the bathroom when there was a knock on the front door.  I put the toilet paper on the rocking chair and opened the door for my neighbor, Carol.  We went into the kitchen first to make coffee and then headed into the office to make copies.  On the way to the office, I noticed the toilet paper sitting on the rocking chair and picked it up with the intention of putting one roll in the bathroom by the office.  We went into the office and I placed the toilet paper on the shelf while I showed Carol how to make copies.  We sat and drank our coffee while the copies were being made.  When the copies were done, we went back into the kitchen where I noticed the folded bath towels on the kitchen table.  The towels reminded me that I still hadn’t taken a shower.  I said goodbye to Carol and headed back to the bathroom to take my shower.  When I arrived in the bathroom, I noticed there was no towel on the towel rack and no toilet paper on the roll.  So, I turned back around and headed to the office for the toilet paper and the kitchen for the bath towel.  On my way, I noticed that the mop bucket was sitting in the middle of my bedroom, my bed was still unmade and my clothes had fallen off the dresser and lay in a heap on the floor.  To make matters even worse, my dog had peed right next to my clothes because I hadn’t gotten around to walking him due to the fact that my neighbor had come over to make copies.  Good thing the mop bucket was right there!  After mopping up the pee, I headed in search of the toilet paper because it occured to me that I needed to pee as well.  I found it sitting on the shelf in the computer room.  I started laughing when I realized how the toilet paper got there and that made me have to pee more.  I ran into the bathroom by the computer room and, while I was sitting on the throne, it occured to me that this would make a really funny story.  So, when I left the bathroom, I came into the computer room, placed the package of toilet paper on the shelf and ...

Friday, August 19, 2011

Enduring Love

Funny how time has a way of warping when you’re facing tragedy, one day just blends into another until they all become one big blur.  A thousand clich├ęs come to mind when I think of time – All in due time, time waits for no one, time is all we have, making time, the times; they are a changing, time heals all wounds…Time - It is truly the only priceless commodity.
Life’s most precious memories are not usually measured in days or weeks – but moments in time.  What settles in our souls are the snapshots of life.  We remember the moment we held a precious newborn in our arms, the moment we said, “I do”, the moment we saw a child off to college, the moment we looked in the eyes of someone we loved for a lifetime and truly saw them for the first time. Those memories are what make up the tapestry of our lives. 
 It is just such a moment that has rested in my heart when I think of my parents.  I want to share this moment as a way of celebrating the joy of their love for one another. 
I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to see both my parents recently.  Living in Florida, I was not able to visit them as often as I would have liked.  Yet, I knew my mom was very sick and I felt that I should see her sooner rather than later.  I had no idea that this visit would indeed be the last time I would see both my parents alive.  When I walked into my mom’s ICU unit I was not prepared for what I saw.  She was gaunt and frail; too weak to speak.  Yet I knew she was happy to see me because her eyes crinkled and she tried to smile through her oxygen mask.  She wanted to say something, but it was impossible to hear her feeble whisper.  She finally gave up trying and slipped into a restless sleep.  I stayed by her side stroking her hair and praying for her to regain her strength.  Seeing her like this strengthened my resolve to somehow bring my father to see her. 
I was keenly aware that she may indeed be dying and my father had not seen her in over two months.  They had been separated from each other for such a long time because he was not able to travel due to an infection that he acquired in the nursing home where he was living after his stroke.  My mother had visited him everyday until she had to leave the state of NC and return to our family in NJ.  She was looking for a place to relocate my dad when she became suddenly ill and had to undergo emergency surgery.  He was still in NC when she went into the hospital.  It took our family a few weeks to transfer my dad to a facility just down the road from my mom’s hospital.  Yet, he still had not seen her.  
During my visit to NJ, I was determined to facilitate reuniting my dad with my mother – even if it meant bringing him to the ICU.  This was not an easy decision to make.  My brother, sisters and I knew it would be a painful trip for my dad because of his severe arthritis.  His nursing home was unable to provide transportation meaning that we would have to transport him ourselves.  
I was second guessing the wisdom of it all as it took four people to bend and maneuver my dad into my sister’s small car.  He cried out in pain several times.  Every time he cried out, I asked him if he still wanted to make the trip and every time he gave me “the look”.  “The look” is hard to explain.  It is one of those “just do it” kind of looks – sort of bothered and impatient.  It is the same kind of look he would get on his face Sunday mornings when he waited at the bottom of the staircase jingling his keys for my mom to get moving for church.  He never yelled or raised his voice.  He just gave you “the look”.  I was getting “the look” now.  So, we managed to get him settled in the car and I got behind the wheel.  I drove the short distance to the hospital; my dad crying out in obvious pain every time I turned a corner or hit a bump.  

I kept nervously glancing his way all the while saying, “You’re going to see mom soon!”  

I would get “the look” in response.  I finally just shut up and drove.  My sister sat in the back seat lost in her own thoughts.  The quiet ride was punctuated with my dad’s cries.  I was a bundle of nerves by the time we arrived at the hospital.
It took two burly security guards to get my dad out of the car.  I said, “Dad we’re going to see mom!”  

He looked at me with that “I know already!!” exasperation in his eyes.  He motioned to me to get on with things and move the wheelchair.  I quietly wheeled him through the hospital halls as my mind raced on ahead to my mother’s room where my two sisters were awaiting our arrival.  I knew by now that they had told my mom of our plans.  I imagined the expectation and anxiety my mother must be feeling.  She and my father had not seen each other for so long.  I cannot recall a time when they were separated for even two days during their entire 42 years of marriage.  Now, my father was going to see my mother lying prostrate in a hospital bed, unable to talk and hooked up to all kinds of machines.  I knew that she would be fretting about my dad seeing her in such a state.  Yet, she too was very clear when we casually asked her if she would like to see dad.  Her eyes lit up and she clearly shook her head yes.  This was what I was picturing in my mind’s eye as we finally neared the ICU unit and my sisters gathered around my dad preparing him for what lay ahead.  He quickly waved all of us off and motioned for me to move his wheelchair.  
It wasn’t until we actually crossed the threshold of that room that I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt we had indeed made the right decision.  In that moment I saw my parents - not as the two people who raised me - but as two people whose love transcended all earthly constraints and connected them on a level far beyond the physical realm. It is true that the eyes are the window to one’s soul.  As soon as they gazed into each other’s eyes, I knew that their souls connected; they had no need for words.  
There are neither pictures to capture nor words to describe the raw emotion of those last moments they spent together.  I slowly wheeled my dad to my mom’s bedside and watched my father’s arthritic hand ever so gently stroke my mother’s fragile arm.  Her eyes were aglow with love and his face changed in an instant from tortured to tender.  Neither could speak- my dad from his stroke, my mother from weakness.  It didn’t matter.  They were like two dancers whose rhythm is so in tune there’s no need for music.  They were united again; two hearts so uniquely and passionately joined they truly beat as one.  I felt somewhere deep in my own heart that this might be the last time they saw each other.  I know now that it was God’s hand that quietly nudged me to make the trip when I did and nudged me again to bring my parents together.
Up until the day I crossed that threshold with the wheelchair I hadn’t cried. Perhaps I was trying to be strong for my family.  Perhaps I was afraid of the emotions welling up inside.  Whatever the reason, I kept my pain and sadness at bay.  Yet, witnessing this vulnerability in my parents suddenly pushed me over the edge.  My tough exterior crumbled and I felt my sobs pulling me in like a great ocean current.  The waves of emotion came thundering into my heart.  All at once, I felt my resolve crumble and I knew I was falling to pieces.  
I didn’t want my parents to see me crumble before their eyes.  Besides, I wanted to leave them to their private moments together so I quickly stepped outside of the antiseptic hospital room and into the comforting arms of an ICU nurse.  Perhaps it was desperation that made me cling to this kindhearted nurse, but cling I did.  I clung to her like she was a lifeboat in a stormy sea and I cried and cried.  My racking sobs shook me into depths of despair.  She held me and just let me cry.  I guess ICU nurses are used to such things.  I just let it all out.  I sobbed out of sadness and loss – for I knew my mother would soon be gone.  I already sensed the void in my heart.  I knew these two people were saying their goodbyes.  I knew they would meet again, but probably not on this earth.  I knew this might well be the last time I would see them together because I did not expect my mom to hold on much longer.
Yet, I also cried tears of joy.  Joy because they were able to connect one last time and joy because I knew the love they so passionately shared for each other was also shared with their children.  As is evident in the lives of their six children, their sixteen grandchildren and one great grandchild; these two people were loved dearly. And, in the end, they taught me that love is the greatest gift we can give one another – love and time.  Theirs’ is a great love story; a love story where the phrase “to death do us part” held no meaning because they chose to be joined in death as they were in life.  
It was a shock when I received a call not more than a week after my visit.  The call came at 3:00 in the morning.  It was my brother.  I braced myself for the news that I was expecting.  I was already hearing his words before he said them, “Mom died.”  However, that is not what he said between his sobs.  Instead, he said, “Dad’s in the hospital.”  He explained that my father had aspirated his food in the nursing home and they had to transfer him to an ICU room in the very same unit caring for my mom.  
Later that day, while I was at work, I received the dreaded call from my sister.  I don’t know why I went to work.  I knew in my heart that I would be getting a call.  I should have been on a plane heading north but there really wasn’t much I could do now.  My brother said they had dad heavily sedated so he was currently unresponsive and my mother was essentially the same.  Going to work at least got my mind off things.
I was standing at the podium in front of my class doing my best to appear normal and get through the reading lesson without breaking down into a blubbering idiot.  Then, my assistant principal appeared at the door.  When our eyes met, I knew.  I knew it was something terrible.  She motioned for me to come with her.  Zombie-like I made my way on leaden feet to her office.  She handed me the phone and quietly stepped out of the office closing the door behind her.  
My sister was crying so hard I could barely make out her words.  All I heard over and over again was, “It’s dad!”  “It’s dad!”  

Dad?  What about dad?  Her words weren't registering.  
“What do you mean, 'it’s dad'?”  
“He’s on a respirator.” My sister managed to say between sobs.  “They want to turn it off!  We need to know if you want to be here before…before they turn off the machine.”  
I don’t know what happened next.  It seemed like time stood still while I held the phone in my hand and images of my father floated through my head.  Christmas when he gave me my first Fender Duo-Sonic electric guitar…he and I playing chess…the day I rode my unicycle without holding onto the walls and he stood clapping in the hall…the bike rides we took…dad.  
“Dad!” I moaned.  

Soon my husband and my principal appeared and they ushered my out the door to the car.  I was in a fog.  I don’t remember saying goodbye to my sister.  I remember saying something about not waiting for me…I had already said my goodbyes.   
Later that day, as I made plane reservations, the machine was turned off and my dad quietly went to be with the Lord.  My mother, who was a few rooms away, was told about my father.  Within 48 hours she slipped peacefully into a coma and stopped breathing on her own.  Rarely does one spouse follow so quickly after another.  Yet, my parents were different in so many respects.  Their connection was so strong that I truly believe they were each other’s lifelines.  One could not and would not want to go on without the other.  

I keep thinking about that day in the hospital room when they were reunited.  It was their last dance.  They were great dancers.  They danced together through life and into death.  As my brother-in-law so aptly put it, dad was impatiently jingling his keys in heaven saying, “Get up here already, the music is playing!”   

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Pearls of Wisdom

I don’t know where the phrase “pearls of wisdom” came from, but I understand now how God sends us pearls of wisdom everyday, if we know where to look for them.  For instance, this photograph that I took of a dew-laden spider web is certainly etched with pearls of wisdom from God Himself.  Who else could be the master creator of such fine, magnificent beauty?  When I think of the spider that wove this intricate masterpiece, I have to marvel at the Creator’s handiwork.  This tiny spider spent its entire night crafting this work of art so that we, if we choose to search for it, will have the privilege of marveling at his effort.  If we’re lucky enough to freeze frame this forever, we are truly blessed to be able to behold this beauty time and time again.  
So, what are the pearls of wisdom strung through this delicate fiber?  So many pearls.  Really, each pearl possesses the ability to make one think and ponder about life.  
To me they represent the beauty of nature; they tell me to respect nature - even spiders.  This strand tells me that mirror images can be fascinating as I look into the water marbles and see my own reflection in a different light.  I see God’s promise of renewal in knowing that this spider will craft this web every evening for as long as it lives.  I see captivity...captive water and soon to be captive prey.   I see spider-sturdy branches that hold its web suspended despite the heavy dew load.  It reminds me that some things that appear to be fragile really aren’t.  The stark contrast of the black and white still frame reminds me that, even in life’s shadows, one can behold beauty.  
How long did the spider labor to build this wonder?  What if a clumsy person, haphazard animal or strong wind come along and destroy its creation?  Will the spider cry?  Will it wallow in the tragedy?  Will it give up hope?  Will it die?  I wonder about these things.  Are these emotions strictly human emotions or do spiders worry that their webs will succumb to calamity?  
Why did God choose something so small and seemingly insignificant as a spider to create something so intricate, strong and beautiful?  Is He trying to make us look at the parallel universe in which we exist?  Is it not the weakest among us that often cause us to see their true strength?  The premature infant struggling against all odds to survive, the double amputee war veteran who runs a marathon on born again legs, the autistic child who produces extraordinary music...they are the ones that evoke deep myriad emotions in us.  They’re the ones who God places in our midst to keep us humble; like the tiny, seemingly trivial spider.  
I wish I could take the dew pearl necklace and hang it around my neck, but that would destroy its purpose and all its pearls would be lost.  No; better to leave it here and capture it’s beauty through my lens.  Perhaps others will come and behold the pearls and glean God’s infinite wisdom.  I know I will walk away from this moment carrying a pearl of gratitude in my heart...thank you God!  Thank you for my legs that brought me here, my eyes that spotted this beauty, my mind that pondered it, my camera that captured it and my heart that opened to its marvelous mystery.  I am so blessed!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011


The months passed and more goats arrived.  They were breeding faster than rabbits.  Our little herd of fifteen had grown to twenty-two.  Bobby, our neighbor who is the caretaker of the farm next door, told us we should never name farm animals because they are not pets.  Lulu never learned Bobby’s golden rule about naming goats. Lulu named every one of the goats.  Her favorite goat, besides Sugar, was Peehay.  Peehay was named after Lulu observed her peeing on the hay.  She was a pretty white goat with a gentle personality.  I often observed Lulu outside hugging and talking to Peehay.  Peehay would follow Lulu around the pen and nudge her and they’d run off together.  I swear that goat was more dog than goat.  Those two were inseparable.   Then, one day, Peehay became ill.  
Lulu and I went out to the pen to feed the goats like we always did but Peehay didn’t come over to greet us.  She was trying to get up but didn’t seem to have the strength.  Lulu ran to her and tried to pull her up.  My heart sank as I watched my little girl struggling with all her might to bring her listless friend to her feet.  When I reached them, I knew right away that Peehay was terribly sick.  It was clear from the surrounding ground that Peehay had an extremely bad case of diarrhea.  After checking her mouth and seeing white gums, I knew she was also very dehydrated.  
I carried her to another stall and began trying to nurse her back to health.  I called the vet and he told me to give her electrolytes and call him if she didn't get better.  Electrolytes, Milk of Magnesia, deworming…you name it; I tried it.  For two days and two nights we tried everything to help Peehay.  I slept in her stall holding her head in my lap praying that she'd get better.  I kept picturing Lulu and Peehay running through the pasture - not a care in the world.  All night long I sat in the stall petting Peehay's head crying and blubbering over her as I willed her to get well.  I don't think this is the way a farmer should act!  

I called the vet again.  He told me to call the “goat lady".  The goat lady lived just down the street from our farm and was like the witch doctor for goats.  I had heard about her, but had never personally met this woman who was credited with saving half the goat population in our county.  I figured that if anyone could save our little Peehay, it would be the "goat lady".  So, Bill, Lulu and I loaded Peehay into the back of the truck and went to see the goat lady.  As soon as the goat lady saw Peehay, she told me that she didn't think she would be able to save her but she gave her a mega-dose of electrolytes and two shots.  She said that if Peehay made it through the night she might be able to pull through but, alas, all our efforts failed.  Three days after she got sick, Peehay became our first goat tragedy.  

The funeral was simple; attended by Lulu, Katie, Bill and I.  Lulu read a poem she wrote for the funeral.

Peehay you were so sweet
Even when you peed on the hay
Peehay you were so cute
Even when you peed on the hay
Peehay you were my friend
Even when you peed on the hay
I loved you everyday 
Even when you peed on the hay
We all said a prayer and Bill dug the hole.  Joe appeared as Bill was lowering Peehay into the hole.  “My brother and me used to have a goat…” he began.